GL Analysis: Thank You, Mr. Sitt
After ranting that developer Joe Sitt could show good faith in Coney Island by extending the lease of Astroland, we'd be remiss in not saying something today. After all, Astroland has another year to live, and Coney Island should have a decent summer in 2008. We have given Mr. Sitt our share of grief for the awful handling of things in Coney Island and for needless, premature demolitions and land clearance. Back in September we wrote of keeping Astroland open, "Mr. Sitt, do the right thing." So, we will say this: Mr. Sitt, you did the right thing and there are a lot of people who thank you for it.
When we left Astroland on September 9 after a long, long day of shooting photos, we turned around and literally said, "Goodbye" before we walked to the F Train feeling very empty. While we're not happy that we will get to have that feeling all over again next September, for now, we're glad to know there will be fireworks on Friday night, that we can go up in the Astrotower again and that we can wander around that outdated, little state fair-like midway again for another summer season. In its simplicity, Astroland reminds of us of something that is fast disappearing in a world of megabucks development and corporate blandness. It is real and it is genuine and it brings us back to a time when a carnival set up in a church parking lot and nobody knew what a latte was, let alone Starbucks.
All that having been said, we still feel a little bit like we're thanking someone for not pulling a trigger when they picked up a gun and pointed it at someone's head in the first place.
We remain deeply skeptical about Mr. Sitt's plans for Coney Island--about the 3o- and 40-story buildings, about the residential plans which have morphed into condo-hotel plans and about the densities and designs in general. There is a lot of plywood in windows that wasn't there before and a sense that bulldozers are waiting in the wings to start leveling more buildings, including a couple that local preservationists would like to see spared.
A lot more should be known about what will happen in the next week or two when the city's zoning recommendations are released. At that point, we will know if there was a quid pro quo for extending Astroland's lease (for instance, watering down the amusement district by allowing residential development along Stillwell Avenue) or if Mr. Sitt simply chose not to do violence to Coney Island.
We have said many times that we do not oppose development in Coney Island. Anyone with a sense of its history can't look at a vast school bus parking lot next to the boardwalk or vacant lots and want to preserve it that way. The issue is how Coney Island is redeveloped, not if. If Coney Island is a thriving, vital place full of amusements five or six years from now, with residential development west of KeySpan Park, everyone will win. If a large part of it is rebuilt as a bland and lifeless place of generic condo towers dwarfing their neighbors and if part of the amusement district ends up looking like a shopping mall in New Jersey, but with nicer signs, then everybody loses. Coney Island isn't the place for that.
The critical zoning issues in Coney Island won't be settled until late 2008, at best. The discussion could well extend further if there is contention about the plan. In that case, we could be back at this same point at this time next year.
Those, however, are all points to be dissected on another day. Today, we can finally say that after numerous public relations debacles that have turned some opinion against the Thor project, Mr. Sitt has done a good thing--and a politically smart thing--by allowing Astroland to stay open.
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